The Reality of Mental Illness: Karyn Inder

Reality TV is all the rage; I find myself obsessed with shows like The Real Housewives or Keeping Up With The Kardashians. But we don’t always have to go so far for reality. Our reality is the life we create and the dreams we chase. 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness in their lives (source). I spoke with my friend, model and mental health advocate Karyn Inder, who was willing to share her reality with living with mental illness, where she battled with her mental illness and came out stronger than ever. First things first, let’s get to know Karyn; I’m sure you’ll think she’s super cool.

Karyn Inder grew up in Newfoundland in a small town called Grand Falls Windsor; born in St. John’s, she lived with her parents and younger brother. She grew up very differently than most of us here in Ontario; she frequently went ice fishing, drove quads and ATVs, went boating, chased caribou, spent her summers at the cabin, went whale watching, followed humpback whales, and had a very rural life. A true Canadian story, Karyn and her mother entered into a fashion show at the local hockey stadium. This sparked her love for fashion, and now in the industry, it seems crazy to think this dream was attainable. At the age of nine, Karyn told her parents she wanted to be a model. And they encouraged her, with perhaps some hopes of her “growing out of it” and eventually trade fashion in for a more “realistic” career. Karyn refused to let this dream go.


Photo: Childhood photo with my best friend Katie and our rabbits for their birthday party


Karyn entered high school just like you and me, but at the young age of 14, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Karyn experienced a large amount of bullying as a child and in high school because she really just didn’t fit in with the other kids. Looking back, Karyn recalls her mother being very open regarding mental health and wellness, as mental illness runs in her family. Karyn’s mom encouraged her and her brother to be open with her in the event that they felt they were experiencing any symptoms or signs of mental illness. Karyn spent the majority of her young adult life feeling misunderstood, and continued to struggle with her own mental health, as well as the day to day life of her family. Her un-medicated bipolar disorder was an extremely difficult challenge for her, as she experienced all common signs of it and then some.


Photographer: Patricia Recourt, 2018


It is important to note Karyn graduated Memorial University in 2011 with a business degree, receiving praise for her grades and awards for her involvement in school. She was president of ENACTUS. Karyn appeared to be the perfect student, but she was suffering greatly inside. During her university career, she sought out campus resources and did find individual and group therapy to help. It wasn’t enough, but it helped. Just before graduating, she experienced her first rock bottom and was hospitalized. At this time Karyn realized she couldn’t sugar coat her illness anymore and she needed more help. Not letting this stop her, she picked up her life and moved to Montreal to pursue her career in fashion. Karyn hadn’t been there long when her second rock bottom hit.

After many challenges with family and trying to figure out what it meant to live a life with mental illness, Karyn saw her psychiatrist once again. He discovered she was very ill and needed immediate help for her illness. Her love of life became so important that she knew her mental health needed to be changed. Within two weeks, Karyn was admitted to Homewood Health Centre here in Guelph.

At 22 Karyn entered in-patient treatment in the Homewood Health Centre. She described the experience as beautiful and this treatment truly saved her life.


Photo: Karyn outside the Homewood grounds


“Homewood is the best the thing that ever happened to me.”

Karyn describes the grounds and environment as “just so beautiful and the city couldn’t be a better location for this center.”  Her experience at Homewood challenged her, but she knew it was what needed to be done and worked really hard. Karyn shared a funny story of eating chocolate in her bed late at night, but also her serious weight gain from her new medications. She struggled getting up every morning and thinking of her friends who were living their lives while Karyn was just trying to get a hold of herself and who she was. Her experience was tough, and isolated her from everything she knew, but this place was perfect and beautiful for her. Homewood was the beginning of a new life for her. She was armed with medications and tools and she began to learn who this version of herself was. Her new quality of life was a very exciting moment for her on discharge. Fashion became the purpose for Karyn to wake up and try hard to be well and live her life. Karyn realized the longer she was in the hospital, the longer she was away from modeling, and she refused to let her illness hold her back.


Photo: Karyn with her mom, note the mood board in the background. “Vogue” was always on her radar. Karyn would later appear in Vogue Italia Online in 2017.


Slowly but surely, Karyn made her life and began to get to know herself. In 2014 she moved to Toronto and was signed as a plus sized model. Karyn reflects on weight gain from medications as focus first on your mental health and worry about the weight second. The weight is temporary, your health is forever. Today, Karyn speaks about having a positive body image and stresses the importance of having a healthy mind and body.

Karyn pointed out the fears that come with mental illness and how we shouldn’t hinder our life, you can handle the job, you can be a mom, you will find love. She refused to let herself believe she was held back by her illness, “you are worthy of your life."


Photographer: Patricia Recourt, 2018 


Are you treated differently now when people learn of your illness? Both from your past and new people you meet?

I wouldn’t say that I am treated differently. I think people have been surprised to learn that I experience issues with my mental health and I think this stems from the strong stigmas and stereotypes associated with mental illness. I think as a teenager, I was bullied and misunderstood for things that were because of my mental disorder, but they were definitely indirect.

My hope is that I can use my platform of modelling to raise awareness surrounding mental health. To change the face of mental illness and be a role model for anyone out there who struggles. As a child, I dreamt of being a model, and now I live in Toronto and am a model signed internationally. That person is still the same person who went through treatment… nothing has changed, and I don’t feel like your perception of me should either. I want people who struggle with mental illness to know that I was capable then just like I am capable now; and so are they.

I feel that there are many qualities one should consider when it comes to judging my character, or anyone’s character, as a person- whether or not they struggle with mental illness isn’t one of them.

So far it has been nothing but positive. Every time I upload a video to YouTube or make a post on social media, people reach out in the comments or by DMing me to show appreciation and share their stories. I posted my first video in January with no real intention of posting more, but the response was so positive I’ve been getting in the habit of uploading every week. I discuss my experiences with mental illness and answer questions that others submit- my intention is to remove some of the fear or unknown related to mental health.

While I was at Homewood, I was always around so many different types of people. Of course, there were doctors and nurses, but there were also cafeteria workers, cleaning personnel, clerks in the stores and every so often people from the community would be selling gifts or treats on the main floor. Everyone treated you with respect, no matter where you were in the building or on the grounds. My experience was that everyone treated me with kindness. I know it may sound silly, but even the lady who would come in my room in the morning to change the garbage would greet me with the biggest smile. She was the first person I saw in the morning and it was always a great start to the day. I felt like Homewood helped me set the standard for how I felt I should be treated, with respect just like everyone else. My sense of self-worth hadn’t changed, I didn’t feel like I was ‘less of a person’ because of my diagnosis mainly because everyone at Homewood didn’t make me feel that way. Their empathy and understanding ensured that I left with my head held high.


What’s your career like now?

I currently live in Toronto and I love it so much. My mother agency is B&M and I am also signed in New York, Montreal, Spain and Germany. The past couple weeks have been very exciting, I participated in a campaign celebrating diversity coming out in April, and I mentored and closed a runway show during Toronto Women’s Fashion Week for Lesley Hampton. The runway show was called LITHIUM and its purpose was to create mental health awareness, also in support of CAMH.

Last year I spent some time in New York and I can’t wait to go back. Everything I have done since I moved to Toronto is so important to me because I never thought I would be able to create this life. When you’ve lived with mental illness for so long, you doubt yourself and struggle to find the balance of what you can handle and what could break you. For the longest time I thought I would have to pick and choose goals or cater my life around my diagnosis. Sometimes I felt like I was using my mental health to dictate what I could experience in life, and that I wasn’t deserving of the same life experiences as others. I want people to know that I fought and worked hard and ended up getting everything I ever wanted, and you can too.

I truly believe that if it wasn’t for Homewood and a handful of amazing people, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be a model, I wouldn’t be in Toronto doing what I love and engaged to an amazing man. Most importantly, I wouldn’t be able to share my story and inspire others to choose life over illness. To stick it out, seek treatment and show everyone that a life with mental illness is still a life worth living. I learned a lot at Homewood, they gave me the tools I needed for my second chance at life. I share my story so that anyone struggling with mental illness will know that they are capable of anything. You deserve to have everything you’ve ever dreamed about, and you are worthy of all life experiences… something we often forget.


Photo: Closing the Lesley Hampton show LITHIUM at TWFW2018


Photo: Karyn and the 17 other models in the Fashion Show, titled LITHIUM with designer Lesley Hampton at TWFW2018


Something you wish all young women knew about their mental health?

So many things! First, I would want you to know that we all have mental health and it is important that we prioritize ourselves and take care of our minds just like we take care of our bodies. Mental wellbeing is important!

Second, if you struggle with mental illness, I encourage you to have an open mind when it comes to treatment. Many medications have side effects and one of the most popular side effects is weight gain. I know that weight is a sensitive subject for a lot of us and most of the time, weight gain isn’t considered a desirable situation. I urge you to treat the primary issue first, being your disorder, and treat the secondary issue, any side effects, including weight gain, second. I have heard so many women tell me that they rejected or delayed treatment by medication because they were afraid of the weight gain. I want you to know that something like weight gain can be temporary and it often is. Have faith that once you feel you are strong, confident and stable mentally- your best self will shine through and your body will adjust over time. I want you to have a life of quality, please don’t let anything stand in your way of that.

Lastly, I would want you to know that you are deserving. Deserving of happiness, security, comfort, empowerment. I want you to think about your self-worth, how the people you surround yourself with or who you find yourself in relationships with make you feel. Never feel that you deserve less because you struggle with mental health.


Something you wish families, loved ones, friends, knew about mental health and treatment?

I wish people knew how harmful doubt can be. Please, do not ever doubt someone at any point or stage in their journey with mental illness… diagnosis, treatment, recovery. I believe it is one of the most negative things you can do to hinder someone’s progress. If you believe they are capable, then they believe they are capable.

Your loved one, who is hurting, is the same person that you remember when they were / are at their best. Never underestimate being open, understanding and supportive- even when it’s really hard.


Photo: Karyn modeling earlier this year.


Karyn’s fun loving and comedic personality is truly an example of her perseverance and zest for life, showing me and everyone who has the pleasure of speaking with her that mental illness does not have to consume you. I am deeply inspired and moved by Karyn’s journey and believe she is doing amazing things within the mental health community.


Check out her socials: